STRANGE BUT TRUE
Q: Is it true that we humans use only 10 percent of our brain?
A: Not at all. “Time for some critical thinking. The odds are not 90 percent that a bullet to your brain would land in an area you don’t use,” says David G. Myers in “Psychology in Everyday Life.” Surgically lesioned animals and brain-damaged humans show that association areas “interpret, integrate and act on sensory information and link it with stored memories — a very important part of thinking.”
The fact is, many of our complex abilities are spread across many parts of the brain. Consider this curiosity about language processing: Reading a word, your brain uses different neural networks to compute the word’s form, sound and meaning. Thus “jokes playing on meaning (‘Why don’t sharks bite lawyers? ... Professional courtesy’) are processed in a different brain area than jokes playing on words (‘What kind of lights did Noah use on the ark? ... Flood lights’).” With this two-track mind, “what you experience as one continuous stream of perception is actually only the visible tip of a much larger iceberg. Most information processing takes place beneath the surface of conscious awareness.”
To sum up, Myers says, the brain operates by dividing its mental functions — speaking, perception, thinking, remembering — into subfunctions, which are localized in particular brain regions. Yet the brain acts as a unified whole, with specialization and integration as its hallmarks.
Q: In long ago days, who wore the pants in the group, putting them on one leg at a time just as we do today?
A: Early Asians and Europeans wore gowns, robes, tunics, togas, loincloths and individual leggings, but an excavated tomb in China showed the oldest known trousers originated 3,000 years ago and were probably worn by horse riders, says Bruce Bower in Science News magazine. As reported by a team led by Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner, of the German Archaeological Institute, “With straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch, the wool trousers resembled modern riding pants.” Evidence suggests that nomadic herders invented pants for bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys, as well as for mounted warfare.
“The two pants-wearing men entombed at Yanghai were roughly 40 years old and were probably warriors as well as herders,” the investigators said. One was buried with a decorated leather bridle, a wooden horse bit and a battle axe; the other had a whip, a decorated horse tail and a bow.
Q: Do you have “street smarts” enough to say why stop signs have eight sides? Where are the nine-siders? Are there signs with an infinite number of sides?
A: You have to think back to American roads in the early 20th century when there were no lane lines or stop signs. Drivers didn’t even need a license, according to Mental Floss magazine. Then in 1915 in Detroit, the first stop signs were introduced, white and small and square, nothing like today’s red octagons. Then in 1923, Mississippi’s highway department suggested having sign shapes denote the kind of hazard ahead, the simple logic being the more sides, the greater the danger. For you math whizzes, oddly enough circular signs can be regarded as having an infinite number of sides. “Thus these designated the riskiest hazards, like railroad crossings.”
Octagons indicated the second most perilous situations, like intersections. Diamonds signaled less-risky stretches (caution!) and rectangles were “strictly informational” (bicycle crossing ahead).
Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at email@example.com.